- The team behind the “Dr. Death” podcast is back with another investigative miniseries, “Bad Batch,” this time about a different facet of modern medicine: stem cells.
- The multibillion-dollar industry is very profitable but under-regulated, leaving some desperate patients vulnerable to bad treatments.
- “Bad Batch” premieres Wednesday, but Business Insider had the chance to listen to episode one ahead of time.
- Here’s what you can expect from Wondery’s latest series.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
What happens when desperate people with serious ailments or illnesses are promised an expensive miracle cure by an under-regulated industry?
One year after wrapping up her last hit podcast, “Dr. Death” – a story about a neurosurgeon who was sentenced to life in prison after several of his patients died or were crippled, which stayed at No. 1 on Apple Podcasts for 25 days – host Laura Beil is back to answer that question in “Bad Batch.”
The new six-part miniseries “Bad Batch,” also produced by podcast company Wondery, explores the ways the $US2 billion stem cell industry can exploit those in need.
“Bad Batch” follows the stories of several people in Texas who underwent stem cell treatment, only to find themselves in the hospital in critical condition. Beil traces the medical mystery back to stem cell product distributor Liveyon, which eventually recalled its products last fall when the Food and Drug Administration brought the cases to its attention.
The podcast premieres Wednesday, but Wondery hosted a listening event for the first episode ahead of its official debut where Beil answered questions about the story and shared insights into her investigative process.
This time around, Beil said she had unrestricted access to one of the main characters in the story, Liveyon’s CEO John Kosolcharoen, who spoke with her for six hours during their first interview and then exchanged calls, emails, and hundreds of texts as she worked on “Bad Batch.”
Kosolcharoen started the company after he saw stem cell treatment work wonders on his mother and decided to get involved in the business himself, Beil explains in episode one. But stem cells aren’t yet regulated the way most drug treatments are, and there’s currently only one type of stem cells therapy that is FDA approved, according to Beil.
“These are unapproved therapies,” Beil said during the Q&A. “They don’t go through the testing that a drug would.”
Stem cell clinics continue to open, though, because they generate a lot of money. Patients pay with cash instead of using insurance, many of them convinced of the merits of stem cells by salesmen at seminars as opposed to medical professionals.
“I always left these seminars so depressed because people are desperate,” Beil said. “The rooms are packed, and people are desperate. At the one that’s in the podcast, there were three people in wheelchairs.”
The science and research behind stem cell therapy is legitimate, Beil said, but the vast majority of treatments are still in clinical trials, so information presented in ads and sales pitches can be misleading.
“Bad Batch” also features audio bites from the head of the FDA’s biologics division, which is responsible for regulating stem cells. Beil said the FDA is notoriously hard to get on the record, but she managed to find a way to ask questions for the podcast during a Q&A at a conference.
Based on the harrowing anecdotes presented in episode one, listeners are left wondering what went wrong in this industry.
“Right now people are not getting informed,” Beil said. “Stem cells are very promising, but right now there are so many unknowns.”
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